Part of the excitement in the lead-up to a World Cup is the ad campaigns from the globe's biggest brands, all competing to associate themselves with the football festival. How does this year's crop fare?
Steve Parish founder, Tag; chairman, Crystal Palace FC
1990 was a real turning point for football, dragged down for many years by hooliganism and falling attendance. England’s performance in the World Cup galvanised a nation and gave birth to the Premier League. This is what World Cups are for: they inspire nations, creating a collective excitement and shared experience rarely matched by anything else. Brands flock to support it, to have their name written next to the joy, heartache and power of the world’s biggest sporting event.
It’s important for a brand to occupy a space, transferring the feel-good factor and shining a light on the soul of their brand and, in doing so, explain what its unique place in the festival of football is and why. My favourites, Carlsberg "old lions" and Nike "write the future", are a lot to live up to – both are laced with the stock football "drag backs" and acrobatic skills. They also have a great narrative and wonderful humour.
Nike. From the long-term ruler of this territory, this four-minute epic doesn’t disappoint, managing to incorporate a lovely narrative borrowed from every schoolboy playing field: "I’ll be Ronaldo, you’ll be…" It took me back to my childhood – then, we were Don Rogers and Denis Law. I’m sure the premise resonates the world over, evoking nostalgia and excitement in equal measure. It’s big, the production value is fantastic and it’s pure football porn at times – it is only let down a little by the unintelligible dialogue and surreal in-joke about the Hulk (look it up; I had to). For me, it works better cut down – but is certainly the best of the offerings without being spectacular.
Adidas. It has its moments, this one. The Kanye track gives it a contemporary feel but it has no soul, no story and no humour. Again, beautifully made, but not really epic and quite dark. Watching this ad just makes the Nike one feel better.
Budweiser. I really don’t know what to say about this because I don’t know what it’s trying to say to me. Is it meant to depict football as a religion? Or just show off the iconic places that the agency has visited? It doesn’t really hold together. "We all rise as one" is a great title, but I don’t really see that in the film. If it was an ad for Rio tourism, it might work, but it certainly won’t be making me reach for a Bud.
ESPN. It really shows what an agency like Wieden & Kennedy can do when it doesn’t have the constraints of celebrity endorsement. It’s a fan ad with a lovely idea at the heart of it: we are all in one time zone during the World Cup. It doesn’t try too hard and perhaps lacks a little originality, but the sentiments make me feel it understands what’s going on. The World Cup really has become a global shared experience that, despite Fifa’s best efforts at times, continues to grow and enthral the world.
Pepsi. It would love to teach the world to sing. Sadly, it and we know it never will. That’s why this doesn’t work – players as fans is a nice twist, but they are ham actors. The insecurity and client involvement riddle the ad with product placement and Jack Wilshere’s blue-screen cameo. I like the track selection and it’s a "nice" ad, but Pepsi once again reinforces itself as not quite as good – no matter what the "Pepsi challenge" says.
Tim Crow chief executive, Synergy
Live for now. Rise as one. All in or nothing. Risk everything. No, these aren’t the slogans of Brazilian street protestors angered by Fifa hubris, broken government promises and failing public services. Not yet, anyway. They are the endlines of four of the five ads this mighty organ has asked me to review. But don’t rule out seeing sponsors’ ad lines on protest marches in Brazil during the World Cup; one of the features of last year’s Confederations Cup protests was the way the protestors repurposed ad lines for the streets. And these latest slogans are ripe for picking. Anyhow, to the ads.
I tried to like the Pepsi ad, I really did. Interactivity, Janelle Monae, Bowie’s Heroes – there’s a lot to like. But it’s all trying just a little bit too hard. It gets off on the wrong foot with the obsessive pack shots. The ability to use Messi – the one global football icon Pepsi has on its books – is thrown away in a cameo that thinks it’s funny but isn’t. And, ultimately, it all ends up feeling very random. Pepsi was much better at this football-meets-music stuff when it made simple, bonkers epics with Beyoncé, Britney and Becks.
A feeling of randomness could easily have pervaded the ESPN ad too, but doesn’t. The vignettes from around the world are beautifully knitted together, perfectly evoking the simple but powerful insight that nothing connects the world like the World Cup, and managing to make the everyday iconic. If watching the World Cup on ESPN is anything like as good as this ad, viewers are in for a treat.
Iconic was no doubt a word that featured strongly in the brief for the Budweiser ad, which looks absolutely stunning – but then, I am a sucker for anything shot in black and white. Whether intentional or not, what the ad and parts of its soundtrack most strongly brought to mind was 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the Bud World Cup bottle looming massively like Kubrick’s monolith. But, for all Bud’s perennial self-confidence, to me, it’s still searching for a differentiating point of view about football.
That’s not something you can say about Nike, which discovered its football mojo back in 1998 with the immortal "airport" ad featuring Brazil’s ’98 World Cup squad and the original Ronaldo. That mojo is alive and well in Nike’s epic new ad, which features the new Ronaldo and a glittering cast of other Nike assets reprising ’98 – playing amazing football and having a laugh. Which is exactly what Nike’s bullseye target – the football-mad teenage kid – wants.
There’s a lot of brilliant football and footballers in the Adidas ad too, but a very different feel. This is serious. Kanye’s soundtrack broods menacingly. Messi dreams uneasily of his adversaries and the pressure to perform (unconscious echoes of the pressure Herzogenaurach feels from Nike?), and the final frame challenges you to opt in or out of Adidas marketing. Ballsy. Which is apt, when you think of it.
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